operating room 3
Medical staff in an operating room on Ellis Island c. 1916.

National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

The doctors of Ellis Island were commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service. Officially known as surgeons, they were in charge of the Ellis Island Hospital and the medical examination of immigrants in a routine procedure called the line inspection. As long lines of immigrants slowly entered Ellis Island's Registry Room, they were examined swiftly and expertly by the doctors for any sign of disease or signs of physical or mental weakness.
Doctor, 2 Patients and a priest c1920
A doctor photographed with two patients, and a visiting priest (left) c. 1920.

National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

Ellis Island doctors were particularly watching for signs of contagious diseases like trachoma, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and other states of health such as poor physique, pregnancy and mental disability. Any immigrant suspected of being in questionable health was chalk-marked with a letter of the alphabet ("B" for back problems, "F" for face, "H" for heart) and taken out of line and moved to a physical or mental examination room. Those with definite illnesses were sent to the Ellis Island Hospital.
An operation on Ellis Island c. 1933.

National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

The role of the doctors on Ellis Island was confined to the medical examination, diagnosis, and treatment of the immigrants. Doctors played no role in deciding the fitness of a person to enter the country. This decision was left exclusively in the hands of the U.S. Immigrant Inspectors. Ellis Island's doctors were not involved with quarantine - this operation took place on Hoffman and Swinburne Islands, two isolated islands off the coast of Staten Island.
Dr. Kimmel of the hospital complex on Ellis Island.

Dr. Kimmel of the hospital complex on Ellis Island.

National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

An operation on Ellis Island c. 1920.

An operation on Ellis Island c. 1920.

National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

Dr Carl Ramus
Dr. Carl Ramus, ca. 1901.

National Library of Medicine

Dr. Carl Ramus (1872-1963) Physician and Surgeon

Doctor Carl Ramus was posted to Ellis Island on and off over a span of twenty years (1902-1922). The Chicago native was educated at Rush Medical College and joined the Marine Hospital Service in 1899. Like other doctors, Ramus became adept at detecting contagious diseases such as trachoma, favus, diphtheria, measles, tuberculosis and hookworm. Between his postings at Ellis Island, Dr. Ramus worked at the Public Health Service's quarantine station in Honolulu, serving as chief of the station from c. 1910 to 1912.

After gaining public recognition as an author on health topics in the early 1920s, Dr. Ramus resigned from the Public Health Service and set up his own private practice as a psychiatrist. His books included Marriage and Efficiency (1922), Outwitting Middle Age (1926) and Behind the Scenes with Ourselves (1931).

In the 1930's and 1940's, Dr. Ramus worked as a doctor on board United Fruit Company ships. This new job gave him the chance to travel regularly between the port of New York and destinations such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Panama Canal Zone. Aside from his writings, the doctor played the viola and enjoyed classical music. After retiring as a physician, he and his wife, Anna, settled in Alexandria, Virginia. He lived to be 91.

Last updated: December 13, 2016

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